By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
The hunting season for transfers and graduate transfers seems to have opened up early this year. It appears that every basketball coach of every Power Five Conference has their hunting license in hand and is scouring the countryside — virtually — hoping to land that big trophy player.
John Calipari is no different. With the loss of Khalil Whitney during the season, Johnny Juzang immediately after the season and the early entry of Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey into the NBA Draft along with the real possibility that Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley all remain in the draft John Calipari is very short on experienced players.
That’s why it was so important for a guy like Keion Brooks Jr. to announce that he is returning to UK for his sophomore season. Many might overlook Brooks as a role player based on his last season numbers — 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 47 percent in 15 minutes per game — but on next year’s team he should be an up and coming star.
Brooks was a five star Top 35 player out of LaLumiere School in Ft Wayne, Ind., and really started to blossom at the end of the season for UK. He was instrumental in UK’s comeback victory against Florida on the road in the last game of the season.
Here’s why that performance was critical for Brooks. It showed him, and John Calipari, that when he is expected to perform he can and will. Brooks made two critical 3-point shots during that game and also took and missed a pull up jumper near the end that EJ Montgomery tipped in for the winning basket. That shot was critical for Brooks also. Not because he missed it but that he was willing to take what could have been the game winning shot with 12 seconds to go in the game. It shows he had the confidence to be something more than a role player in a game that could have been critical to UK’s final seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
In that final Florida game Brooks scored 10 points on 4 for 5 shooting and 2 for 2 on 3-pointers. Knowing that he could step into a key role next year means with extra developmental work in the off-season Brooks could make the same type leap that Immanuel Quickley did in his sophomore year at UK.
John Calipari thinks the same thing. He said recently about Brooks, “Keion improved as much as anyone on our team. This season was great for him. He learned about himself, he learned about the game and he learned about what it takes to be special.
“And let me say this: I truly believe Keion Brooks is going to be special.”
I think that’s very true. I also think Keion Brooks is going to be special. He has the size, he has the skills and most of all he has the right frame of mind and work ethic. Calipari agreed. “Keion is one of the greatest kids we’ve had. He’s got a caring heart, but on that court he has a competitive spirit with skills, length and athleticism that set him apart. He can play multiple positions on offense and defense because of that length and athleticism,” Calipari said.
All of that says to me that Keion Brooks has the opportunity to be a key experienced player for UK next season.
So as all the other Power Five coaches are looking to bag that experienced and talented big game trophy in the grad transfer and transfer hunt I think John Calipari has already found his. Even if John Calipari brings in one or more grad transfers for next season I believe that Keion Brooks Jr will be the key experienced player next year in helping to lead Kentucky’s No. 1 recruiting class on its hunt for National Championship No. 9.
And that would be a nice trophy to mount on the wall … or hang from the rafters.